With a few hours to go before the budget announcement, I’ve been thinking about business costs, specifically electricity prices – and how to reduce them.

For those engineers or business owners who like to mix business with pleasure, here’s a game for this evenings announcement. Each time the treasurer talks about the burden of costs to businesses, have a shot of your best whiskey. A word of warning, you’ll be buying yourself a new bottle.

Australian businesses are paying 80% more today than 5 years ago for electricity. One food manufacturer I work with, has an electricity bill of $70,000 per month. The official current rating to start an electric motor is 8 times the Full Load Current (FLA). In reality, it’s more like 5 times the FLA. That’s still a nasty spike! Here’s why this is important: Most businesses are billed on their peaks. I’ve worked with a lot of manufacturers to reduce the spike and thus cost caused at startup. My advice: Consider installing Variable Speed Drives (VSD) and soft starters.

There are a couple of options open to you:

1. Install a soft starter.
A soft starter is a simple device that limits the current on start up. That is, every time your compressor, pump, or machine starts it limits the current for about the first 5 seconds and then reverts back to normal running conditions. This results in a more gradual increase in current and eliminates the spike.

2. Install a Variable Speed Drive (VSD).
A Variable Speed Drive is a more intelligent option than a soft starter. For example, by installing a VSD on your cooling tower, coupled with a temperature probe in your chilled water line we can regulate the temperature of your chilled water. In essence your cooling tower will run at 20% on a cold day, will go to “sleep” if no cooling is required, and “wake” automatically when required. It has the added benefit of running over-speed on a hot day ie. 110%. This offers you greater cooling capacity on a hot day and less on a cold day. VSD’s provide optimal process control and thus contain your energy usage.

These are just two examples of how you can reduce the cost of your production. Each control system and solution will vary. It’s worth discussing your options with your electrician.